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The Selected Works of T. S. Spivet

1 rating: 3.0
A book by Reif Larsen

Book Description  A brilliant, boundary-leaping debut novel tracing twelve-year-old genius map maker T.S. Spivet's attempts to understand the ways of the world    When twelve-year-old genius cartographer T.S. Spivet receives … see full wiki

Tags: Book
Author: Reif Larsen
Publisher: Penguin Press HC, The
1 review about The Selected Works of T. S. Spivet

Mapping alone

  • Apr 4, 2009
When I write my reviews, I often include references to other books that link to the one I've just read, whether thematically or chronologically or theoretically or spiritually or even just randomly--but for "The Selected Works of T. S. Spivet" I'm not sure I can even randomly select a work that links to it. Unique and ambitious, Reif Larsen's debut isn't a classic, but its nicely done.

Tecumseh (family name adopted four generations earlier by his Finnish immigrant ancestor) Sparrow (named for the sparrow that crashed into the window of his birthing room) is a 12-year-old boy born on a Montana ranch to his gruff cowboy father and scientist mother in search of a phantom beetle. T. S. is a normal boy--except he always calls his mother Dr. Clair, he hardly ever talks to his father (well, strike that, that could be considered normal 12-year-old-boy-behavior)-and he is an accomplished and published technical artist and cartographer. When he receives a call from the Smithsonian Institute announcing he has won a prestigious fellowship and is expected in Washington to give a speech at a fancy banquet in his honor, the reader expects a mad cap cross-country adventure.

And indeed, T. S. does set off across country, alone, without telling his parents, with a suitcase full of a few clothes and many drawing implements--and a notebook he stole from Dr. Clair's desk during his pre-dawn escape. But along the way, in the first-person narrative and the marginal notes, maps, and drawings that T. S. provides, we learn that just a few months before, his younger brother Layton was killed in an accidental shooting while he and T. S. were conducting an experiment so that T. S. could map the sounds of different kinds of rifles. This first admission is so matter of fact that it takes a while for the reader to realize the depths of pain and loss T. S. is hiding in his maps. It is from this loneliness and lingering guilt that the story draws its heart and becomes more than an adventure story.

"The Selected Works" is not perfect. The "story within the story" extended family history that T. S. reads in the stolen notebook along the way, while important to the story, is too long and drags down the midsection of the book. T. S.'s narrative is sometimes too-knowing and mature for a 12-year-old, even a precociously-talented one, to have written; I could sometimes feel the pen of Larson, a 28-year-old MFA graduate from Columbia and documentary filmmaker, poking through the back-stage curtain.

But the story is fresh, T. S. is usually just a kid, and as he unpacks his feelings for Layton and his family the further east he treks from Montana, we come to like and enjoy his company and want him to succeed. Particularly well-done is the progression from "Dr. Clair", never "Mother" at home, to the occasional "Mother" on the trek east, to finally a heartfelt longing for "Mom" and finally even a camaraderie with the Father he always respects but struggles to know and understand, and dare we say, love. As a son and now a father of three children ages 18 to 23, I recognize the stages and the struggle, and realize that T. S.'s love and skill at mapping are his way of mapping "alone".

T. S. finally admits to himself

"When you drew a map of something this something then became true, at least in the world of the map. But wasn't the world of the map never the world of the world?"

It is this heartbreaking discovery that marks our transition from adolescence to adulthood, and helps T. S. end his journey and turn back toward home.

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